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"Officially, Israel argues that the wall is being constructed for security reasons, but the structure's meandering path betrays underlying territorial ambitions."
In Jayyous, a village of 3,000 in the northern West Bank, Najah Shamasneh cradles her granddaughter in her lap and listens to her husband Yusuf tell of the loss of their agricultural land. The Shamasneh family's 25 dunams (about 6.25 acres), their sole source of income, now lies on the western side of the wall that Israel is erecting in the West Bank.
Around the city of Qalqilya, Israel's "security fence" is a 25-foot concrete wall crowned by watchtowers at regular intervals. In other areas, such as near the village of Falamiyya, it is a complex arrangement of structures that together form a formidable barrier. The "fence" begins in the east with a tangle of concertina wire in front of a trench between six and 13 feet deep. Behind the trench runs an unpaved military road, a chain link fence topped by barbed wire and then a paved military road. According to some reports, the fence is electrified in some places. Combined, these structures stretch across 200 to 330 feet. In some places, a second barbed wire fence bristles on the western side of the paved road. In others, the entirety of the barrier consists of one military road and a barbed wire fence. Thermal imaging cameras, radar-equipped observation towers and touch-sensitive pads have been installed, or soon will be, along much of the wall.
Officially, Israel argues that the wall is being constructed for security reasons, but the structure's meandering path betrays underlying territorial ambitions. In places, the barrier dips over three miles into the West Bank, leaving on the "Israeli" side settlements, fertile Palestinian land and valuable water resources. While the form of the wall varies, everywhere its impact is to confiscate more Palestinian land, isolate Palestinian communities from one another and sap their social and economic viability.
This much is well-documented. Less heavily covered are the links between the wall's humanitarian consequences and political developments. Though the wall is not mentioned in the US-sponsored "road map," it intrudes upon each of the main issues to be negotiated during the road map's final phase – the status of settlements and Jerusalem, the borders between Israel and Palestine, and the fate of Palestinian refugees.
Construction and Destruction in Jayyous
According to Abdullatif Khaled, a hydrologist with the Palestinian Hydrology Group, and regional coordinator of the Apartheid Wall Campaign, survey markers first appeared on Jayyous lands in July 2002. Two months later, a resident found, affixed to a tree, an edict from the Israeli military commander calling the village together to tour the projected route of construction. At the meeting, villagers learned that a 3.5-mile wide swath, comprised of 75 percent of their farmland, thousands of fruit and citrus trees, over 150 greenhouses and at least six wells, would disappear behind the barrier. At least an additional 550 dunams were eventually bulldozed to make room for the wall itself, along with another 8,000 fruit and citrus trees. With 95 percent of village families dependent on the lands behind the wall for their livelihood, the economy of Jayyous has been dealt a serious blow.
Since November 2002, Najah Shamasneh and her family have been living in fields that are now isolated on the "Israeli" side. A single gate, controlled by Israel, regulates movement of Palestinian farmers in and out of the fields. According to Khaled, around 300 families travel through the gate on a regular basis. The Shamasnehs, along with 30 or 40 other families, have taken up full-time residence in the area, battling the flies, dirt and summer heat in makeshift shelters. Despite these hardships, the Shamasnehs argue that Israel's arbitrary control of the gate makes it impossible for them to tend their crops while living in their family home in the village. Others fear that if they do not maintain a constant presence, at some point they will not be allowed to return.
The main water resources of Jayyous also lie in the area behind the fence. Following the Israeli occupation in 1967, again according to Khaled, villagers were prohibited from installing pipes to connect the village with the wells in the fields, forcing residents to rely on water tankers. Dependence on transported water and restricted access to the wells have created a serious water deficiency. In the summer of 2003, Jayyous had running tap water for two hours every three days, prompting many villagers to warn of potential health risks.
Completed and Projected
In late July 2003, the Israeli government announced it had completed the first phase of construction of the wall in the West Bank. The largest completed section runs from east of Jenin to the settlement of Elkana, southeast of Qalqilya. Smaller segments of the wall run from east to west, south of Ramallah and on the northern edge of Bethlehem. In addition, a north-south segment has been built on the eastern edge of Jerusalem. Fourteen gates provide controlled access to agricultural areas on the western side of the wall.
The exact path of the remaining portions of the wall is not yet known. In a March 2003 report, the Israeli human rights organization B'tselem reported that while the Israeli cabinet approved the construction of the wall in principle in June 2002, it left authority over its route in the hands of the prime minister and the minister of defense. A variety of proposals are currently under consideration, and a number of factors, including domestic and international opinion, will undoubtedly influence the eventual reach of the barrier. In the meantime, Israeli, Palestinian and international organizations tracking the construction have relied on land confiscation and demolition orders issued to Palestinians, published maps, official statements and satellite imagery to forecast a number of scenarios for the wall's final contours.
Original projections for the western portion were altered in early 2003, when the Israeli Ministry of Defense announced that the wall should extend westward to encompass the settlements of Ariel and Immanuel, deep in the heart of the West Bank -- a position which Prime Minister Ariel Sharon publicly supported in May 2003. In March, Sharon proclaimed his intention to build another segment of the wall on the western rim of the Jordan Valley.
Included in Israeli and Palestinian NGO projections are three "depth barriers" that will have only one entry/exit point. Outside the walled areas are numerous "enclaves" -- pockets of isolated Palestinians -- some of which are to be encircled with fences of their own. According to the Palestinian Environmental NGOs Network (PENGON), six such fenced enclaves will probably be established.
It remains unclear whether these proposals will be implemented in full. If they are, the wall will confine the majority of the Palestinian population of the West Bank to two or three large cantons comprising some 45 to 50 percent of the West Bank's territory. If not in the major cantons, Palestinians will be isolated from each other in the three "depth barriers," the "enclaves" or East Jerusalem. Tunnels or fenced roads have been proposed to link the cantons. PENGON estimates that the completed fence will be significantly longer than the Green Line -- the 190 mile-long internationally recognized border between Israel and the West Bank. Construction of the eastern side of the fence would bring the total length of the wall to between 360 and 435 miles.
Independent analysts from PENGON, B'tselem and other groups predict that large tracts of land lying outside the wall may eventually be annexed to Israel, but even if not, Israeli regulation of all entry and exit points to Palestinian areas ensures ultimate Israeli control of the cantons and enclaves. Combined with existing Israeli settlements and the network of settler-only bypass roads developed during the 1990s, Israel's wall cements a topography of geographically disconnected Palestinian population centers, cut off from one another and from their sources of livelihood.
One of the biggest objections to the wall, voiced by both the Israeli right and the Bush administration, has been that Israel is in actuality constructing the border of the future Palestinian state. Israel argues that the wall is a temporary security measure, rather than a political fait accompli. However, while the security argument certainly accounts for the widespread Israeli domestic support for the wall, at an estimated cost of $2.27 million per kilometer during one of the country's worst economic recessions, claims that the wall is "temporary" appear spurious at best. As UN Special Rapporteur John Dugard noted in the International Herald Tribune on August 4: "What we are presently witnessing in the West Bank is a visible and clear act of territorial annexation under the guise of security."
The logic behind the snaking route of the barrier can be found in Israel's settlement policy, including settlement construction, expropriation of land and the network of bypass roads criss-crossing Palestinian territory. By carefully tailoring the path of the wall to place existing settlements on the "Israeli" side, Israel can effectively maintain control over much of the land, resources and, subsequently, the population and economy, of the West Bank. Particularly telling is the fact that projections of the final path of the wall coincide quite closely with Israeli settlement plans dating back decades, especially those favored by Sharon.
For Jayyous residents, the confiscation of their land for the wall is part of a larger pattern of confiscation and settlement dating back to the mid-1980s. Residents report that in 1986 Israel confiscated 1,362 dunams on which the settlement of Zofin and a quarry were built. In 1990, Israel confiscated another 30 dunams of land near the eastern entrance to the village and established a trash heap for area settlements.
During the first phase of construction, settler lobbyists succeeded in altering the wall's path to include the Alfe Menashe settlement, which now lies on the western side of the wall. Alfe Menashe (population 5,000) now stands within a bubble of territory equivalent in size to the area remaining for Qalqilya (population 42,000). With the resulting uninterrupted territorial contiguity between the settlement and Israel, the future growth of this settlement can be guaranteed. In contrast, the future of Qalqilya, which is now surrounded on all sides by 25 feet of concrete, seems bleak at best. Entry and exit to the city is regulated by one Israeli army checkpoint. Qalqilya residents have been cut off from surrounding agricultural land and the 32 surrounding villages have been isolated from what was once the commercial center of the region.
According to B'tselem, Israel built the wall north of the Palestinian villages of Habla, Izbat Jal'ud and Ras Atiyya in order to provide a corridor of direct access from Alfe Menashe to Israel, via Route 55. Residents of Habla must now travel 12 miles around the wall and through checkpoints to reach Qalqilya, a city that lies a mile away as the crow flies. The Palestinian villages of Ras Atira and al-Dab'a, which are near Alfe Menashe, are trapped between the wall and the Green Line, their residents cut off from the West Bank and unable to enter Israel.
Further south, in the Jerusalem area, the first phase of the wall's construction solidified what is widely referred to as the "Jerusalem envelope." The new barriers extending east-west from Ofer military camp to Jaba village (north of Jerusalem) and from Gilo settlement to Umm al-Qassis (northeast of Bethlehem), as well as a north-south wall in East Jerusalem, effectively seal off the eastern portion of Jerusalem from the West Bank. Settlements already surround the eastern portion of the city.
To date, the "security fence" places ten Israeli settlements and approximately 20,000 settlers to its west. With settler groups lobbying to include major settlements, such as Ariel and Immanuel, on the western side of the wall, and settlements like Shilo and Elon Moreh on the eastern side of the Jordan Valley wall, PENGON projections indicate that 98 percent of the settler population will be located outside of the wall. Israel is creating "facts on the ground" that will prejudice the outcome of the negotiations over the fate of settlements that are called for in the "road map."
Israel's "Final Status" Negotiations
Despite near universal international agreement that settlements are illegal and constitute a violation of Israel's obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention, their construction has continued relatively unabated, under both Labor and Likud governments, since the 1970s. While the issue of settlements was slated for talks during the final status phase of the Oslo process in the 1990s, Israel used the intervening years to double the settlement population and create a network of bypass roads that divide Palestinian territory, while connecting settlements with one another and with Israel. The Palestinian leadership is now faced with having to negotiate the status of settlements that did not exist when they initially agreed to negotiate over settlements in the early 1990s. Settlement construction in and around the Jerusalem area has been so intensive that much of the Israeli public finds it inconceivable to discuss dismantling Jerusalem "neighborhoods" such as Ma'ale Adumim, a massive housing bloc to the east of the city.
The extent to which the settler movement, thus far, has been able to alter the path of the wall to include settlements on the western side, along with ongoing lobbying about its future path, indicates that the settler population, at least, views (or fears) the wall's construction as more than a temporary measure. Should the wall be completed as projected, in all likelihood its contours, rather than Palestinian needs, will determine the outcome of negotiations on borders. Additionally, as the wall's path becomes clearer, so too does Israel's position on which settlements will remain and which ones are likely to be dismantled.
In effect, Israel is now conducting its own "final status" negotiations -- among the Israeli government, the Israeli public and the settler movement. Should the wall be completed, the issues of borders and settlements could be largely decided; the fate of Jerusalem could also be determined, as the city is already enclosed on three sides by settlements and bordered by Israel to the west. The wall also severely limits options for Palestinian refugees, particularly those forced from their homes in 1948. Since Israel has repeatedly stated that it will allow no refugees to return to homes inside Israel, many analysts have assumed that the bulk of refugees who leave their present abodes will eventually be absorbed within the future Palestinian state. However, if that state will comprise only 45 to 50 percent of the West Bank, a large-scale resettlement of refugees is doubtful.
Camp David Plus
In July 2000, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations broke down at Camp David when Palestinian negotiators rejected an Israeli "generous offer" that would not have created a contiguous, viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Camp David proposal divided the West Bank into three large cantons, surrounded on all sides, and consequently controlled, by Israeli territory. Completion of all portions of Israel's wall will constitute de facto implementation of the Camp David proposal -- but with less territory for the Palestinians.
Completion of the wall as proposed will likely impede the development of an integrated Palestinian economy, leading to further impoverishment, higher unemployment and ruptures in the already strained social fabric. Access to existing jobs, education facilities and health services will be further restricted. If present plans are followed, not only will Jerusalem be completely separated from the West Bank and, consequently, political, economic and social ties severed, but the physical barriers erected around the city will prevent the Palestinian population there from building outward. The resulting increase in population density, coupled with wall's hindrance of commerce and investment, could turn much of Jerusalem and other Palestinian towns into urban slums. "Without land, without water, how will people live?" asks PENGON coordinator Jamal Juma'.
In Qalqilya, once the urban hub for 32 villages, the effects of the wall are already plain to see. The wall's sealing off of the city has accelerated the economic downturn caused by repeated closures and curfews during the current intifada. Six hundred out of 1,800 shops have closed due to lack of business, and the unemployment rate has reached 80 percent. In a process of "quiet transfer," as many as 4,000 residents have left town in hopes of brighter prospects elsewhere. The heads of an additional 2,000 households have been forced to move outside the city in order to find employment. In the village of Nazlet Issa, north of Tulkarm, construction of the wall has meant the total destruction of its market. In January 2003, the Israeli military destroyed over 80 of the market's shops. On August 22, the military completed the job, destroying an additional 100 shops and five houses.
Should the construction of the barrier proceed, similar effects can be expected in other Palestinian communities, adding to the already deep frustrations of Palestinians. "There are no choices for the people here," one angry farmer living in the fields of Jayyous asserted. "There is only one solution: UN resolutions [supporting a two-state solution following the end of the Israeli occupation]. They live there and we live here. But this wall shows that they don't want this.... We love life like everyone. Do you think we like to bring our wives, our children here to live? We have no choice. After this, no one can hold us responsible for what we do." Because of its political implications, Israel's "security fence" could very well lead to greater insecurity and the continuation of conflict.
Related Link (s):
- A map detailing the wall in the Qalqilya area is accessible at the website
of the UN Office for the Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs:
by courtesy & © 2003 Catherine Cook